The Inseparable
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The Inseparable

Simone de Beauvoir, Deborah Levy, Lauren Elkin, Sylvie le Bon de Beauvoir

The lost novel from the author of The Second Sex. The compulsive story of two friends growing up and falling apart.


When Andrée joins her school, Sylvie is immediately fascinated. Andrée is small for her age, but walks with the confidence of an adult. Under her red coat, she hides terrible burn scars. And when she imagines beautiful things, she gets goosebumps… Secretly Sylvie believes that Andrée is a prodigy about whom books will be written.

The girls become close. They talk for hours about equality, justice, war and religion; they lose respect for their teachers; they build a world of their own. But they can’t stay like this forever.

Written in 1954, five years after The Second Sex, the novel was never published in Simone de Beauvoir’s lifetime. This first English edition includes an afterword by her adopted daughter, who discovered the manuscript hidden in a drawer, and photographs of the real-life friendship which inspired and tormented the author.

Introduced by Deborah Levy. Translated by Lauren Elkin. With an afterword from Sylvie le Bon de Beauvoir.


 

Review

In 1954, five years after she published The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir wrote a short novel. Beauvoir believed the unnamed work wasn’t serious enough to publish in her lifetime, leaving it to her adopted daughter and literary executor, Sylvie Le Bon-de Beauvoir, to decide whether it should ever be liberated into print.

Like most of Beauvoir’s writing, The Inseparables is drawn from her life. It recounts her intense friendship with Elisabeth ‘Zaza’ Lacoin, from the age of nine when both were students at a private Catholic school, until Zaza’s sudden death at 21. For Beauvoir, this relationship was life-changing, and she returned to it frequently in her nonfiction writing. Fictionalised here, Beauvoir becomes Sylvie, Zaza is Andrée. Passionately narrated by Sylvie, who is fascinated by her new friend to the point of compulsion, we see how the girls’ intimacy builds around conversations and bold ideas – talking is rebellious, a refusal to live in the intellectual purgatory of unexpressed opinions expected of young women at this time. As they grow up, Andrée inspires Sylvie to further rupture the corsetry of bourgeois society but struggles to achieve the same freedom herself.

Like Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, The Inseparables confirms that female friendship is one of the serious subjects of great literature. It’s a compact, elegant and beautifully written novel, but its worth isn’t only aesthetic – it’s also a vital piece in the wider story of one of the most significant intellectual legacies of the 20th century. In Beauvoir’s conception of her dear friend’s life – the oppressive feminine rituals, her loss of self-determination – we see the buds of Beauvoir’s maxim that one is not born but rather becomes a woman, and more importantly, the consequences of this. Zaza’s was a friendship that thoroughly shaped the woman Beauvoir became. In publishing, sometimes hype can cloud judgment. But the release of a new work of fiction by a legitimate feminist icon is genuinely a momentous event.


Joanna Di Mattia is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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